Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2012

The beat goes on

Larry Lawson at his homeLamar cheerleader, ’60s heartthrob and self-confessed serial entrepreneur, Larry Lawson -67 has kept in touch with the heartbeat of America.

Lawson is founder, president and chief executive officer of eCardio Diagnostics, a leading provider of remote arrhythmia monitoring that gives physicians flexibility, speed and accuracy in diagnosing conditions to determine the best course of treatment.

Every day, thousands of Americans find out they have an arrhythmia. An estimated 2.2 million are living with atrial fibrillation, the most dangerous form of this condition. eCardio’s devices automatically record cardiac events and transmit them in near real time to a 24-hour monitoring center where algorithms automatically detect and record atrial fibrillation and arrhythmias. Data is then analyzed at the company’s 24-hour diagnostic facility, based on parameters that have been tailored for each patient. The company monitors nearly 3,000 new patients every week.

“The success of eCardio has everything to do with our service capabilities and how we deliver the information to the physicians in the way they need and want it,” Lawson said. “We are as much an IT technology company as we are an arrhythmia monitoring company. We’ve developed an IT department here that’s stronger than a lot of companies.”

Lawson founded eCardio in 2004 after being a partner in a similar business. “I literally watched how they weren’t doing things as much as how they were doing things right,” he said. “I picked up from that experience that there’s a better way to do this, a more professional way.” Armed with this insight, Lawson created eCardio, founded the business in The Woodlands and began hiring individuals with the expertise to make his vision reality; however, eCardio didn’t take on its first client until after several months of testing and training to ensure the highest-quality service.

That first job was with Cleveland Clinic. “They said, ‘If you can deliver patient reporting in the way we want it and have it populate our Electronic Medical Records system, then you might get our business,’” Lawson said. “In six months, we had done what our competition hadn’t been able to do in two years. Now, we’re involved with many of the most respected academic medical centers around the country.”

Lawson used every resource he had to get eCardio off the ground. “I couldn’t get any seed capital,” he said. “I looked at my funds, found a couple million dollars that was liquid, and went out and got a building and hired people. It paid off.” Still privately owned, eCardio now benefits from investments from Sequoia Capital, providing flexibility that may help the company expand its services into sleep, blood pressure and diabetes monitoring.

In building eCardio, Lawson drew on more than 40 years of medical device and healthcare industry experience, including executive management responsibilities in sales, marketing, mergers and acquisitions, market development and manufacturing. His early career included sales experience with Johnson & Johnson, Edward Weck & Co. and Deseret Medical.

The company’s primary office is in Houston, where about 400 are employed, and about 120 U.S. representatives help the company add nearly 12,000 new patients each month worldwide. The company’s astonishing growth is one reason Lawson received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the health sciences category for the Houston and Gulf Coast area in 2009.

BRIDGE CITY DAYS

Lawson grew up in Bridge City, where his father operated Lawson’s Garage and later built Lawson’s Auto Parts block by block on Texas 87. When Lawson was put in leg braces at 5, the doctor suggested activities that would keep him indoors. He “took to the piano like a duck to water” and began to write music at an early age. He copyrighted his first songs at 13. “Back then, you had to write out the music by hand and mail it to Washington D.C.,” he said.

His repertoire extended well beyond keyboard, as he started on clarinet and then took up trumpet in the school band. “Music pretty much dominated my life,” Lawson said. His parents would take him to Beaumont on Sunday afternoons to be on a local televised children’s talent show. There, he met Edgar and Johnny Winter as they played Everly Brothers songs, and he would play piano and sing “Little Darlin” by the Diamonds. He continued playing blues music with the Winter brothers through high school, but became more interested in a different style of music after the “British invasion.”

THE CLIQUE

As lead trumpet in the Bridge City High School band, Lawson was recruited by Richard Burkhart and offered a scholarship to attend Lamar. His roommate had been a fullback on the Bridge City team and was soon rushed for a fraternity. “I felt left out, so when I saw that there were tryouts for cheerleading, I thought, ‘Why not?’” Lawson said. There, he met Janey (Nosek) Phelan ’67. “She walked right up to me and said ‘I hope you get it. I want you to be my partner.’ That made me try all the harder.” Lawson was elected to the squad and remembers with fondness being a Lamar cheerleader. “It got to where I was burning the candle at both ends,” Lawson remembers. He was busy playing trumpet in the marching and jazz bands, cheerleading and playing gigs in Southeast Texas.

It was during these hectic, heady days that Lawson’s life would become even busier. He was asked to give some tips to a local band, The Roustabouts, by the father of one of its members. Lawson soon joined the group on keyboard. The band was renamed The Sandpipers and gained popularity playing gigs throughout the region. The original members, all of whom were attending Lamar, were John Kanesaw on drums, Bruce Tinch on bass guitar, Cooper Hawthorne on lead guitar, David Dunham on saxophone and Lawson on keyboard.

“I started my junior year, but I got so busy with the band and its success that I didn’t finish it out,” Lawson said. In 1966, the group took top honors in a battle of the bands in Houston, attracting the attention of Walt Andrus of Andrus productions. Andrus had the band record “Splash 1” written by members of The 13th Floor Elevators. “He didn’t have any ideas for the ‘B’ side, so I wrote ‘Stay By Me’ for the record,” Lawson said. The recording was released locally on Cinema and then Wand labels, then nationally by Scepter Records in New York. Later recordings by the group with White Whale Records gave the group national attention, including “I’ll Hold Out My Hand,” “Sugar on Sunday” and “Superman.”

“We went up, hit a peak and came right back down,” Lawson said. “But you know, it was a fun time. It gave me an opportunity to see parts of this country I’d never seen before, and to tour with musicians I never would have seen.” The Clique opened for bands including the Dave Clark Five, Sam & Dave, Grand Funk Railroad, The Association, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and sold more than 5 million records. The group was honored in 2008 when it was inducted into the Museum of the Gulf Coast along with Edgar Winter.

Although pulling in good money at its zenith, “I felt I couldn’t sustain that kind of lifestyle, so I succumbed to getting a real job,” Lawson said. “Going from making $1,000 a week to making $125 a week was quite an adjustment. That drove me to do better. I had to.”

His next lucky break came when he ran into a former Bridge City High School football coach, Gordon Lebouf, a search consultant who turned him on to the medical device industry. Lawson excelled in sales. “I kept being No. 1 and winning awards. Then I realized that I didn’t want awards. I wanted money. So, after about 10 years working for ‘the man’, I decided to strike out on my own.”

“I had this fear of failure,” Lawson said. “I worked 18-hour days doing all I could to make things work, to be successful. But most importantly, I was doing something that made a difference.”

“I like the things it has brought me, but what I’m most proud of is that the company I’ve built, and the devices it is responsible for developing, is saving lives. We get cards and letters every day from families telling us how they are so grateful for our saving their loved ones’ lives.”

“I love living here in Austin, being in the hills, living on Lake Travis,” Lawson said. “I get out here and cut the engines and just float and think about life—how much more of it I have or don’t have. I feel blessed.”

by Brian Sattler

May 2012